Last spring, Nico Eisenberger’s 3-year-old daughter announced during breakfast, “I’m going outside.” She got up from the table, and strolled outside to play. Neither he nor his wife, Robin Bates, worried.
Much as they loved Brooklyn — where they lived until last December — that could never have happened there, he says.
Nico, Robin and their 3 young daughters have been Westporters less than a year. But they leaped into local life. They’ve become active in the Greens Farms Congregational Church, marched in the Memorial Day parade, hosted neighborhood parties.
And — as a tour of their lovingly restored 1903 home shows — they hope to keep Westport’s heritage alive.
Nico Eisenberger (3rd from left) and his wife Robin Bates (holding child) accept a Westport Historical Society plaque designating their house as dating to 1903 from Bob Weingarten. At the ceremony were the couple’s 3 children, and Peter Jennings (far left), an 11th-generation Westporter and descendant of original owner Henry Jennings. (Photo/Dave Matlow, courtesy of WestportNow)
Nico — who works in the clean energy field — grew up in Somerset County, New Jersey. Robin — a digital marketer — is from Toronto. They rented in Park Slope for 2 years, then bought a beautiful brownstone with a hot tub on the roof.
But as their girls grew — they’re now 8, 7 and 4 — the family needed more room. Nico and Robin searched all around the tri-state area. They were ready to buy a great 6-acre place in Bedford, New York, but realized they would miss not being near water.
A Brooklyn neighbor suggested Westport. They saw a number of houses here, but none stood out. As they were ready to leave, their realtor Janet Anderson suggested a house on the corner of Beachside Avenue and Beachside Commons.
It was love at first sight.
The open floor plan, light, and proximity to Burying Hill Beach and the Green’s Farms train station appealed to them. “Everything just felt right,” Nico says.
The wide veranda offers fantastic views.
The house originally stood on 20 acres. It was built by Henry A. Jennings, and passed through only 2 other owners. There was horror fiction writer Peter Straub, then Roy and Laurie Witkin. That couple “saw in us an echo of who they were when they moved in 25 years ago,” Nico says.
The Witkins — who have remained friendly with the new owners — introduced Nico and Robin to neighbors on tight-knit Beachside Commons.
Children wander in and out of each other’s homes, and chatter together at the communal bus stop. The parents have a “proverbial ‘borrowing butter’ relationship,” Nico says.
The 1st year has been all Nico and Robin expected — and more. He’s coached his girls in soccer and softball. They’ve rowed, sailed and kayaked on nearby New Creek. They look forward to watching their oldest perform in “The Nutcracker” at the Westport Country Playhouse.
Nico Eisenberger stands in the open, airy front of the house.
“Westport is close enough to the city that people’s expectations of culture are rooted there,” Nico says.
“But it’s far enough away that it’s not just a bedroom community. People have a strong sense of self. They want to make this place great.”
One way is through environmental awareness. Soon after they moved here, Earthplace hosted an informational event about solar panels and thermal imaging.
“It was a Wednesday night in mid-winter, and 25 people were there!” Nico remembers. “There were energy efficiency vendors, and wine and food. That really said something about Westport.”
Socially, Nico says, he and Robin have found friends through their children’s schools, coaching, and by attending events. They’ve made it their mission to go places: the Westport Arts Center, Historical Society, anything that piques their interest.
On the 4th of July they wandered over to a Cedar Point Yacht Club party. They felt very welcomed — and were immediately offered a spot on a race crew.
The rear of the house, off Beachside Avenue.
“We love the creative, eclectic, open spirit” of Westport, Nico says. “There are parks, restaurants, excellent schools — and a river runs through it.”
One downside: downtown. “On the surface it’s charming and compact,” he says. “But I haven’t figured out what to do there.” He and Robin have gone to meetings, providing input about the future of downtown.
Closer to home, they’ve spent a year on their historic home. The Jennings family has spent 11 generations in Westport, and they are treating Henry Jennings’ home with the love it deserves.
Nico Eisenberger and Robin Bates have retained many of the original fixtures.
They’ve restored parts of the house — the sweeping veranda and old-fashioned basement — while retaining many aspects that give it so much charm. “We are just stewards of this house,” Nico says. “It is our job to pass it on.”
Many longtime Westporters — including yours truly — regularly rail at the teardown mentality of our town.
Nico and Robin are new Westporters. But they have a different view.
“Westport has done a better job than other communities of not succumbing to McMansions everywhere,” Nico says.
“There’s good housing stock here. People care about this place.”
And — with newcomers like Nico Eisenberger and Robin Bates — it seems our future is in very good, loving hands.